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In another land, an immigrant discovers his activist roots

Twenty years ago, Walter Sinche – whose last name means “powerful warrior” in Quechua, the native tongue of Ecuador – never would have imagined he’d get an award from the Mayor of New York. But that’s just what happened.

Fatima Shama, Commissioner of the Mayors Office of Immigrant Affairs presented Sinche with an award for his work against hate-crimes at the 10th Anniversary of the New Immigrant Community Empowerment gala on Monday, November 16.

In fact, the 41-year-old’s life followed little of its original blueprint.

Born in Quito, Ecuador in the late 1960s to a middle-class family, Sinche studied electrical engineering, served as a member of the Armed Forces and planned to study in Germany. However, his parent’s wanted him to study in the United States and off he went.

Sinche arrived to the U.S. in 1988, but he “hated it,” he said. Within six months he had returned to Ecuador, missed the university’s registration period and decided to return to the U.S. In his first job, he ironed clothes in the garment industry’s Brooklyn-based factories.

“Sometimes I didn’t get paid,” said the Queens Village resident, as his copper-toned fingers scratched his straight, jet-black hair. “Stuff of the newly arrived.”

After two years in Brooklyn and many odd jobs later, Sinche realized that he needed to learn English. He eventually learned enough to understand and communicate the technical electrical terms and he received his license.

During his five or so years in New York City, Sinche said he lived his life between work and home, seldom venturing into and exploring the numerous Hispanic or even Ecuadorian organizations in the boroughs.

However, the tragic September 1994 killing of homeless Ecuadorian immigrant Manuel Aucaquizhpi in an alleged hate-crime in Dyker Beach Park, Brooklyn, sparked a fire in Sinche’s being.

“When I read about that in the news, the very next day I skipped work because I wanted to go where people were going to meet to protest,” said Sinche, adding that this event brought him to Roosevelt Avenue in Queens for the very first time. “It caught my attention because no one was doing anything, so I started to follow the case.”

At the end of the trial, Sinche founded the Ecuadorian Society of New York and, to combine Ecuadorians’ love of sports with activism, Sinche also founded the run/walk race called Walk of the Chasqui – the Chasqui ran between villages during the time of the Inca Empire to deliver messages – to fight obesity. Sinche also started Pachamama Organization – Pachamama translates to “mother earth” – because “I started to discover my own roots,” he said.

After awhile Sinche decided to unite with other Ecuadorian organizations and that’s how the 501(c)(3) non-profit Ecuadorian International Alliance began. Sinche now serves as its Executive Director.

The more recent deaths of Ecuadorians, dry-cleaner Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue, Long Island on November 8, 2008 and Jose Sucuzhanay in Bushwick, Brooklyn on December 7, 2008, reignited Sinche’s drive to help all immigrants. He’s now the spokesperson for the Mario Vera’s family, a Mexican immigrant attacked on September 23 in Bushwick, who sustained serious head injuries.

“People who die in the hands of haters are heroes, because they come to a new country to work, and on top of that they kill us?” Sinche said, adding that naming the street corner where Sucuzhanay was attacked will remind the community that something bad happened there.

“I think that we are heroes to our children and to those who want to come to the United States. People who pick fruit, clean bathrooms, work in restaurants, swallow construction dust, we are not all bad.”

 

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